Piper, a educational-technology toy company, needed a way to refresh it's extremely successful DIY computer kit for children. The goal was to design a low-cost version of the Piper computer kit that was more environmentally friendly, easier to customize, and easier to assemble. Too often, children become addicted to technology and blindly adopt new devices without understanding how they work. Laptops are prohibitively expensive and learning electronics concepts is difficult and monotonous. The Cardboard Computer is an entry-level kit that introduces consumers to the Piper Brand in a new cardboard medium that is fun to build and easy to hack, inspiring technological literacy and a maker mindset.
Beginning with paper prototypes, I discovered an elemental box design that could be produced from a flat sheet and easily fold into a rigid structure. Based upon a system of interlocking prisms, this design could be scaled or altered in aspect ratio to accommodate a range of computer shapes and sizes.
From this miniature prototype, I built a full scale cardboard mock-up using fabric straps to hold the screen in the open position. Though effective when on a level surface, the computer was prone to shutting or flopping backwards during movement or when it rested on an incline. And while the screen structure easily slotted in to the central frame, the locking tabs were fragile making the screen susceptible to dislodging after multiple openings and closings.
In order to make the hinge more robust, I began experimenting with pins that provided the hinge mechanism with a fixed axis of rotation. By compressing the hinge with a screw and wing nut, I could increase its internal friction allowing users to open the computer to a desired fixed angle. This insured that children could rest the computer on a inclined surface without being in danger of the computer closing on their fingers.
Since the Cardboard Computer was a also a portable maker space, it needed to store a range of small electronic components for children to build circuits with. To keep these electronic components from falling out during movement, I made sure the rear hinge and front panel completely enclosed the internal storage space. Like a classic lunch box, a handle made the Cardboard Computer easy to carry and fun to display to friends.
Through multiple iterations, I designed a screen frame that provided excellent protection for the display and securely locked the assembly into the central frame. Using locking tabs and a friction fit, this design also made the screen assembly modular to support future screen design updates.
The final design minimized material usage, metal die rule in die-cut production, and the total number of kit parts for consumers to assemble. With the ability to be manufactured from just two 18" x 32" corrugated e-flute sheets, the cardboard computer case was inexpensive to produce both at low volume and high volume.